Margaret Atwood accuses Supreme Court of bringing ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ to life

Novelist Margaret Atwood is accusing the Supreme Court of bringing her dystopian “Handmaid’s Tale” to life — even suggesting it could lead to forced mass sterilizations and the return of Salem witch-style trials.

In an op-ed for The Atlantic, the Canadian author recalled fearing no one would believe her bestseller, in which “women had very few rights,” the “Bible was cherry-picked” for restrictive laws and enslaved handmaids were forced to give birth against their will.

“I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched,” she wrote of the 1985 fantasy that became a hit TV series, as well as the favored costume for pro-choice protesters.

“Silly me,” she said in the op-ed published Friday.

“Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today.

“What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?” she asked of societies forced to live under the laws of a chosen religion.

Abortion-rights protesters dressed in costumes from the “Handmaid’s Tale” walk to the US Capitol building during a demonstration on May 8.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP

The 82-year-old novelist took aim at the justices’ expected decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — “settled law of 50 years” because abortion is “not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not ‘deeply rooted’ in our ‘history and tradition.’”

“True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health,” she said of the legal reasoning Justice Samuel Alito based his draft opinion on to argue to end the landmark 1973 ruling.

UK book cover for The Handmaid's Tale.
Atwood wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 1985.
Amazon

“But the original document does not mention women at all. Women were deliberately excluded from the franchise,” she noted, saying that “women were nonpersons in US law for a lot longer than they have been persons.”

Atwood asked why the justifications used for overthrowing Roe couldn’t also be used to “repeal votes for women.”

She even raised the specter of then-progressive laws in the 1920s that gave states power “to sterilize people without their consent” — noting how it led to “some 70,000 sterilizations.”

“Thus a ‘deeply rooted’ tradition is that women’s reproductive organs do not belong to the women who possess them. They belong only to the state,” hinting that it could be a later focus for the Supreme Court.

Despite acknowledging that the Supreme Court had cited legal reasons for possibly ending federal protections — which would instead hand decisions to states — Atwood later insisted it was actually a worrying sign of the country enforcing everyone to live under Christian values.

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“Not everyone shares such a belief. But all, it appears, now risk being subjected to laws formulated by those who do,” she wrote.

“That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all.”

This image released by Hulu shows Elisabeth Moss as Offred in a scene from, "The Handmaid's Tale."
Atwood’s book became a popular television show on Hulu.
George Kraychyk/AP

That, she argued, meant that if the Supreme Court decision goes as expected, the “looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion.

“Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers,” she added.

Worse, she insisted that the draft document, which was leaked earlier this month, “relies on English jurisprudence from the 17th century, a time when a belief in witchcraft caused the death of many innocent people.”

After highlighting the travesty of “the Salem witchcraft trials,” Atwood argued, “Similarly, it will be very difficult to disprove a false accusation of abortion.

“The mere fact of a miscarriage, or a claim by a disgruntled former partner, will easily brand you a murderer.

“Revenge and spite charges will proliferate, as did arraignments for witchcraft 500 years ago,” she insisted in another dramatic flurry.

Author-poet Margaret Atwood reads one of three poems she presented at a rally of about 300 people condemning United States intervention in El Salvador.
Margaret Atwood wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 1985. “I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched,” she said.
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Dale Brazao/Toronto Star via Getty Images

She ended by saying that if the Supreme Court “wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century.

“Is that when you want to live?” she asked.

Atwood continued her argument on Twitter when The Atlantic publicized her piece.

“It’s not an ‘abortion dystopia.’ It’s a theocracy that affects everything, including who can read. Not who can vote: they’ve abolished that. Also divorce,” she wrote.

Even before Friday’s op-ed, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has become a symbol for many pro-choice activists, with protesters donning the handmaids’ uniform of white bonnets and red robes in protests.

Abortion-rights protesters dressed in costumes from the "Handmaid's Tale" help each other adjust their bonnets during a demonstration outside of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Abortion-rights protesters demonstrated outside of the US Supreme Court.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP

Several fans hailed the novelist as a “prophet” for her op-ed comparison — while others ridiculed the extreme conclusion she reached.

“In the United States, we have the 2nd Amendment. There’s no way in Hell your poorly written tale would EVER happen here,” conservative writer and pundit Kimberly Morin replied to the Canadian author.

A writer named Rebecca told her more than 7,000 followers that “there’s so much wrong with this article, it’s staggering.”

“But mostly it left me feeling sad, sickened & ashamed of formerly admiring this woman,” she tweeted.

Conservative radio host Erick Erickson said that the conspiracy in her op-ed proved Atwood “is a dolt.”

“Her book is hot garbage. And the people who love it are on the same level as people who think fluoride allows the government to control our minds,” he said.

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